Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Loneliness and Other Adventures.

Five months ago I plunged once more into the murky depths of anxiety, which slowly began to sink my mood further and further into the ground, or the sea, or the bottom of a deep lake, or wherever this metaphor is going. In short, I felt awful and afraid and exhausted. Right at the moment I felt myself tip over I decided I needed to do something big that would pull me out the other side. I decided that I was going to take a play to the Edinburgh Fringe, I was going to make myself write it, and I was going to perform whatever it was that I came up with.

The biggest, most overwhelming fear I had at the time, and had had for a long while, was the fear of loneliness, or perhaps I was just feeling loneliness itself. And so since this was the most dominant feeling I had, and the only thing I could really think about, I decided that the play would be about exactly that. And in writing this play, in pulling out everything I was feeling onto the page and forcing myself to confront it I was going to heal.

I kept joking about it at first, that this would be an "elaborate healing process", but secretly I was hoping that it would come true.

I had the idea for the play over a weekend, and the next week I had a venue space in Edinburgh confirmed. The more I committed to, the less I could turn back on myself. I needed to find a team, and I needed to write it, and sign contracts and pay money I didn't have and then find a uni society to fund the money I didn't have and sign contracts with them and then I would be locked in and I wouldn't be able to get out until the end of the very last performance in five and a half months time.

The one thing I knew about this play was that I wasn't going to do it alone. I was going to surround myself with likeminded people and let them help me with what I had to do. I thought that perhaps I was being a bit hopeful about the type of cast I was going to find; that I was going to bond with them emotionally, that I was going to go on some sort of journey with them, that I would be forever grateful that they were there by my side the entire time. That's what I was picturing anyway, that's what I wanted.

Last week three of the loveliest, kindest, most beautiful women I have ever met came to stay in my house and we spent hours in sweltering heat rehearsing for this play about loneliness. And no matter how long it was taking on one tiny scene, or how tired we were, or how far away finishing felt, I did not doubt for one second that it would come together eventually. I have never felt that for a play, I have never felt so sure and so calm. I have never felt so safe in the presence of people who, until five months ago, I barely knew anything about. Two of them I only met in the auditions.

This play might not be the best thing I will ever write, or the best thing I will ever perform. People might not like it, it might get bad reviews, my parents might regret that they had to come all the way up from Buckinghamshire to see it, but I will not mind whatever the response may be.

When I decided to fully throw myself into this ridiculous project I did not know how much emotional recovery I was about to go through, I did not know how bad I was going to feel, I did not know, truly, how much I needed to do it. But now I am here, five days before opening night, feeling more at peace with myself, the universe and everything in it than I have done in a very long time. And even if someone tells me never to step on the stage ever again after this, at least I can tell them that I really, really gave it my best bloody shot. And that I am happy, and less lonely, and that's all I was really asking for.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Check your privilege, for crying out loud.

Today at work - a small coffee vendor on a station platform - a nice man, probably in his 40s or 50s, came up and told me about the best coffee he'd had there with an "exquisite" mix of syrups. Unfortunately he could not remember the exact recipe, and I couldn't help him since he didn't have enough cash to give it another try. We worked out it had been my sister who had served him the exquisite coffee but she didn't remember either. The guy stuck around to have a chat instead.

He told me he loved the area I lived in, that it seemed like one of the best places in England. No one is usually that enthusiastic about Buckinghamshire, but I happen to agree with him. He asked if I was born and bred Bucks, I said I was, and he asked how I'd enjoyed growing up here. I told him I'd loved it and that I'd been very lucky to have done so. That every school I went to was considered excellent by Ofsted, and that having beautiful countryside and London just next door was, to me, the perfect combination. He remained enthusiastic, nodding along to everything I said. "It was very different growing up in Hackney, you know?" he said. I told him I could imagine, but really my white, middle class existence in a home county is a million miles away from a black man's upbringing in the roughest parts of Hackney. There was no bitterness in his description of how he had to become streetwise very quickly, only a longing for things to have been easier, perhaps to have grown up in Buckinghamshire with nice schools, and nice families, and nice middle-class things to do every which way you look. Before he left he joked and asked if I was posh. I laughed and said, sheepishly, "probably". And then he grew serious and told me that it didn't matter, there had to be different types of people in the world, and that I shouldn't be embarrassed about it. I was a bit taken aback, but I told him I thought that even if having privileges wasn't itself a problem it is vital to acknowledge what I have and how it effects other people. He said "I guess" and then his train arrived and we said goodbye.

A few days ago I commented on a Facebook post about Dominic Raab and his views on "feminist bigots". I joked about the tough lives of straight, white, super-privileged men for never having had to face accountability before now. My comment was ironic, and I felt, as I always feel, the necessity for adding "not all men" was entirely redundant. Nevertheless a straight, white, middle aged man I do not know and have never met commented that he felt "judged". I restrained myself and told him I was sorry he self-identified as the "middle-aged white man" everyone seems to be so aggressively attacking and was sensitive enough to believe that what I had said had anything to do with him. I could have told him that the fact he felt judged probably pointed towards his subconscious guilt of being exactly one of the men I was joking about, or that his individuality as one of the "good guys" doesn't work if you wade in with your own pity story in a conversation you weren't in any way involved in. I could have told him to go and do something profane, as I felt angry enough, or I could have just told him to check his privilege. I held back not wanting to embarrass the friend whose post it was, but had it been my own I could have said a lot worse.

This is not my own analogy but imagine you're in a meeting in a job you've worked hard to get to.  Imagine the position you're now in gives you a lot of leeway and a platform for speaking out. Say you're a white woman from a privileged background but you still had to wade through the shit of office sexism and of everyday sexism to get there. You look around the room and take in everyone else sitting around the table. You give yourself a private pat on the back for doing so well, and then you take a note of every person in that room who is not being represented, who could be there doing a good job. Now you have the power, now you've used the privilege you got given in life to get where you are, it is your job to hold the door open for everyone else who needs to come through. Once you are in a position of privilege you have got to acknowledge it and you have got to use it for good. I don't see any other way around it, I don't see any better thing to do. Open the door and keep it open. Whoever you are.

Check your privilege over and over again, check who needs a helping hand, check why you are where you are, keep out of conversations that aren't about you, let people be angry who need to be angry. Except if you're a straight, white, privileged man in which case you can sit down and keep your anger to yourself because this has been a long time coming, my friend. Just look around you, look at the lives of other people, and try your hardest to keep going in the right direction. Because we are going in the right direction, I promise. I promise.

Monday, 2 July 2018

My unashamed love for Love Island.

I have watched this entire season of Love Island so far without any sense of irony. I've enjoyed every bit of it and I'm not remotely sorry.

I have been absolutely compelled by the sense of intrigue, the clash of personalities, the betrayal, the female friendships, the unwavering dedication to a narrow standard of beauty, the unwavering pursuit of fame and money.

I love the ironic voice over which constantly acknowledges the producers' obvious manipulation of the islanders' terrible behaviour, like some meta-theatrical technique. I love feeling quietly happy with myself when I've chosen a favourite islander whose actions and behaviour remain impeccable despite adverse conditions (Dani), and I love believing that some of the couples have found genuine love on this show designed for fakery and juicy gossip. I actually love immersing myself into it despite its consumerist, ageist, ableist, sexist, homophobic and vaguely racist tendencies because it never lets you forget it is any of those things. It is like a Brechtian form of theatre where the audience is constantly reminded of the unreality in an attempt to make them think harder about the content...

Okay, I'm not going to pretend this show is in any way intellectual, but it is, without a doubt, some sort of brilliant social experiment with some of the vainest, most beautiful, most dense (and strictly heterosexual) people this country has to offer. It's like after years of reality TV they finally perfected it into something truly awful and delicious. Like a sugary dessert, it's not doing anything good for your insides but the process of eating it is entirely enjoyable.

I was going to write something about the judgement of other people's tastes and the false sense of intellectual superiority for not watching it but, frankly, Love Island probably isn't worth it. It is what it is, take it or leave it, but I will be having the dessert and eating it, in this case.